Commitments Drive Us

It started with an email. The teenage son of a close buddy of mine asked if I’d be interested in giving a talk at a TEDx event he was organizing for his high school. The request sounded simple enough. A twenty-minute talk to maybe a hundred people. How hard could it be? Plus it was six months away and truth be told, I was a bit flattered by the invitation.

A couple of weeks rolled by and I was feeling pretty good given that I already had a general outline and so wasn’t totally starting from scratch. Five months to go. Plenty of time.

If you ever want to make a promise you really want to keep, make it to someone you don’t want to disappoint.

But then…well…as things tend to do…stuff happened. And almost overnight there were only three months to go. It was around that time that panic set in and I started to seriously think about bailing on the whole thing. In the end I obviously powered through it in no small part because I couldn’t stomach the thought of disappointing Nat. After all I known him from the time he was in Kindergarten and some part of me still saw him as a little kid looking to us adults for some sort of guidance about how to be a responsible grownup.

And so it was that on May 9th, 2015 I found myself on a stage at Los Gatos High School taking my turn on the Big Red Dot that is the centerpiece of the TED stage. It wasn’t the best TED talk ever but it was pretty good and I certainly enjoyed and grew from the experience.

The talk is titled, “Conditions, Constraints, and Conviction,” and it covers three slightly obscure stories. The first is about how Sputnik led to the invention of the modern GPS system. The second describes how Dr. Seuss came to write “Cat in the Hat”. And the third outlines the rather circuitous route by which an idea first considered by a Ukrainian visionary in 1916 became the method that led to 12 Americans eventually finding themselves walking around on the surface of the Moon.

It takes a bit of wandering but they do tie together. I hope you’ll have a chance to watch it.

Looking back on it now, the somewhat unexpected lesson was this: If you ever want to make a promise you really want to keep, make it to someone you don’t want to disappoint — particularly someone who is counting on you. Willpower comes and goes. Commitments however, those are the things that drive us forward.

Thanks again to the student organizers of the event — in particular my good friend and future billionaire Nat Redfern, without whom this talk wouldn’t exist.